Wine & Cheeese Wednesday: A Mini Trip to France

Pack your bags! In this week’s Wine Wednesday, resident Cheese Manager, Erin takes us on a miniature vacation to France by way of the Pyrenees and through a French grape called Viognier that’s made a happy home in California. Enjoy!

P’tit Basque is a sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees mountains in France’s Basque country (obviously, given its name.)  In this particular region, sheep’s milk reigns supreme and we couldn’t be happier about it.  This particular little guy is a real delight.  The wheels themselves are pretty small, only about a pound and a quarter, and are shaped like little barrels with a classic basket impression on the outside.  Inside, the paste is semi-hard, creamy but still holds its shape.   It’s the perfect texture for a sheep’s milk cheese because it lets the nutty, earthy notes really shine when at room temperature. Not sure that sheep’s milk is your style? This is the ideal entry level cheese for you then!  It’s aromas are far milder than most sheep cheese, with way less of that barnyard-y, almost sour smell.  Instead, P’tit Basque gives you a sweet and grassy, nearly creme brulee-esque aroma – way more delicate florals than pungent, crowded corral.  On the palate we get butterscotch, sweet cream, and caramel with a delicate grassiness and a pinch of salt.  P’tit Basque is quickly becoming a favorite snacking cheese with a cracker of choice.  It’s so satisfying that you may just find yourself polishing off the whole thing in one sitting; don’t worry, we’re right there with you.  

This week we’re putting this choice with a new world take on an old world grape – La Clarine Farm’s Viognier.  Viogniers are often full bodied and known for an almost oily texture in the mid palate.  We love this one in particular because, while it is soft and full in the mouth, it remains lifted and fresh – a perfect complement to P’tit’s smooth and rich texture.  La Clarine Farm is run by Hank Beckmeyer & Caroline Hoel with distinctly defined philosophies on both farming and winemaking.   When it comes to winemaking, Hank abides by zero filtering, zero fining, and using only native yeasts.  If he feels there’s a need, he adds minuscule amounts of sulfur at bottling.  He has adapted to a hands-off approach to farming, acting as caretaker and has only had to treat his vines against disease once in the past four years.  Hank believes that this approach has allowed his farm to develop a terroir that is distinctly La Clarine; alive, thriving, and truly sustainable.  

Given this background, the 2019 vintage of Viognier is a beautiful expression that is overflowing with life.  There’s a bouquet of fresh florals on the nose and perfectly balanced acidity on the palate – full and satisfying but in no way heavy.  It’s herbal and honeysuckle notes play off the fat of a sheep’s milk cheese perfectly.  The palate is chock full of lemon mousse and complex minerality with the classic Viognier notes of apricot, peach, and tangerine.  Zippy, well rounded, and delicious with a quick P’tit cheese snack!


written by Erin Hepinstall, Cheese Manager, Bartlett’s Farm

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